Spiritual Parenting

After yesterday’s afternoon of small-group evaluation and discussion, we started Day 2 with another teaching session.

Col Marshall led us through 1 Thessalonians 1:1–2:16 and pointed to how Paul himself was a trainer of ministers—a discipler of disciplemakers. Three key points Col highlighted from the text came under the headings 1) word, 2) prayer, and 3) parenting.

First, Paul’s ministry was word-centered—shaped and powered by the gospel and the Scriptures. Col challenged us to “be plain speakers of the gospel, and let God do the work.”

Which means, secondly, dependence on God and his Spirit—characterized by prayer. In explaining our need for God’s help, Col commented, “Our sin keeps bubbling up, and we notice it more and more the older we get.”

Third, Paul was a kind of spiritual parent to those he trained. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7–12, he uses the images of the mother and the father. Paul not only “shared his own life” with the Thessalonians in a general sense, but also he did not want to be dependent financially on his spiritual children. So he worked as a tentmaker rather than having the Thessalonians pay him.

5 Questions

Col closed the session with five probing questions for the pastors.

  1. Are we organizing ministry (systems, structures, programs) or doing ministry (praying, teaching, training)?
  2. Are we caught up in hatch, match, dispatch (doing reactive ministry—baptisms, weddings, funerals—rather than initiating toward training individuals to join us in the work of training others)?
  3. Are we parenting the flock? Do we know where they are and where they need to be encouraged and prepared and taught?
  4. In choosing future pastors/elders/coworkers, do we look for those who already have a flock following them, and by following them they are following Jesus? Do we pursue those for official leadership who are already parenting people by the word and prayer?
  5. In regards to Christian freedom, do we forgo our rights to certain freedoms (styles in worship, traditional programs and jargon) to keep people from distorting the gospel or from ruining our credibility with the hearers? What are we doing that are barriers to the gospel? What nonessential traditions won’t we let go of that are hindrances to younger believers or nonbelievers? Also, where are we willing to let go in order to be in contact with people? Without being “of the world,” we need to associate with people in the world, for the sake of gospel growth. Are there barriers in our church culture that keep us from being where we need to be to reach people?

The session ended with a brief Q&A. Tony clarified that in their “public” services, they are not trying to be attractive, but accessible.

Tony also mentioned that in seeking to change a church’s culture, it may be helpful to go back to the basics (gospel, prayer, people) at some points in a congregation’s life. To implement practical changes and have them work, we need to go back to the basics with our leadership and congregation on ministry philosophy first, and not just put in place structural changes without adjusting the thinking and intentions behind the strategies.

He challenged us that as we go back to our churches, we should think mainly in terms of people, not in terms of structures—not mainly the what, but the who. “Do a deep work in the lives of a few. Train a few in the key elements: prayer, Bible study and Bible leadership, and ministering to a few, and let God multiply the work.”


Notes from Other Sessions